With Alabama coming to town, Saturday is an early-season chance for Penn State to show that it's a Big Ten contender.
For Penn State to have any shot at pulling the upset, it must slow a formidable Crimson Tide rushing attack led by Trent Richardson. He carried 22 times for 144 yards and a score when Alabama took an easy 24-3 decision over Penn State in Tuscaloosa in 2010, when Penn State was limited to 283 yards and committed four turnovers. Richardson also had 46 receiving yards to finish with 207 total yards.
"They've got so many talented people that if you're not in good position and you don't know what you're doing and you give them some - you don't contain them, it's six points," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who hopes to be on the sideline this weekend after coaching from the press box last Saturday as he recovers from injuries sustained in a collision in preseason practice. "And they do such a great job coaching, game-day coaching as well as teaching year-round."
This presumably is a better Nittany Lions squad than the 2010 unit. It better be, as the Tide may have its best defense yet under Nick Saban. Can Penn State score enough to win? Its best hope to pull the upset is establishing a strong rushing attack. That means the spotlight will be on sophomore tailback Silas Redd.
Taking over for departed Evan Royster, who left campus as the school's leading career rusher, Redd notched his second career 100-yard rushing game in last week's 41-7 romp over FCS member Indiana State. Redd carried 12 times for 104 yards (8.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
"He played better than I thought he would, to be honest with you," Paterno said. "Silas has a lot of ability, but Silas has had a tendency to make some mistakes. ... He has obviously got ability. Hopefully, he can build on that. If he can build on that, he'll end up being a pretty darn good back."
Redd's task will be much more complicated this week against Alabama, which held Kent State to minus-9 rushing yards on 23 attempts in 48-7 victory last week. Penn State's ground game needs an assist from its passing attack. Like last week, Paterno plans to play both Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin at quarterback.
"You've got to understand - both those kids are so close and they're both good," Paterno said. "And if we play well and everybody else plays well, it won't matter which one plays."
BEST MATCHUP: Michigan QB Denard Robinson vs. Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o. Robinson is one of the nation's most electrifying talents, earning Big Ten MVP honors last season en route to averaging 130.9 yards rushing and 197.7 yards passing. But "Shoelace" had pedestrian numbers in the Wolverines' season-opening 34-10 victory over Western Michigan, throwing for 98 yards with no touchdowns and running eight times for 46 yards in a game shortened by more than a quarter because of bad weather. Te'o must keep close watch on Robinson if the Fighting Irish hope to slow a Michigan attack that is transitioning from a spread scheme to more of a West Coast style. Te'o paced the Irish with nine stops in a dispiriting 23-20 season-opening loss at home to USF last week.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Penn State's quarterback. Neither McGloin nor Bolden looked that impressive during a 41-7 season-opening victory over FCS Indiana State last Saturday. McGloin was 6-of-8 for 77 yards, while Bolden was 6-of-12 for 37 yards. While the Nittany Lions ran for 245 yards against the Sycamores, McGloin and/or Bolden need to deliver some throws to keep the Crimson Tide defense from ganging up to stop the run.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Nebraska's offensive line. It looked good in a 40-7 season-opening win over FCS member Chattanooga, but it's a young unit that remains a work in progress. The task gets tougher this week with a visit from Fresno State. The unit features three underclassmen starters in sophomore Gs Spencer Long and Andrew Rodriguez and true freshman T Tyler Moore. It marked the first time Nebraska started three underclassmen on the o-line since 2008, and the first time ever in a season opener.
NUMBERS GAME: Iowa has allowed Iowa State to score just one TD in the past 18 quarters, dating to the 2007 game. That TD came in the fourth quarter of the Hawkeyes' 35-7 triumph in Iowa City last season. Iowa beat the Cyclones 17-5 in 2008 and 35-3 in 2009.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"To be a kid that has professional [baseball] money in his pocket and still handle it [this well] - he could be an elitist and he could be a guy that is stand-offish. But he blends in with our guys so well it's incredible." - Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, on QB Russell Wilson, who won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors after throwing for 255 yards and two touchdowns and running for 62 yards and a score in the Badgers' 51-17 win over UNLV
"I'm not worried about anything negative happening to our conference. ... I believe we set ourselves apart to be in position to do what's best and not to be in panic mode. You look at some of the other conferences, and people are panicking. Not only are they losing [schools], but they're trying to add to make their brand stronger because it's not strong enough. So, I think we're in good position." - Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, on conference expansion
"I hope we are but we're going to find out." - Michigan coach Brady Hoke, on whether his team is ready to play in prime time in what will be the first night game at Michigan Stadium with Notre Dame visiting
POLL WATCH: The league has five teams in The Associated Press poll: No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 10 Nebraska, No. 15 Ohio State, No. 17 Michigan State and No. 23 Penn State. The Badgers may deserve to be higher and the Nittany Lions did nothing in beating FCS member Indiana State to merit entering the poll.
ETC.: Michigan will play the first night game in Michigan Stadium history when Notre Dame visits. Michigan could set a stadium attendance record, established at 113,090 last season when UConn visited the Big House last season. ... With last week's win over UNLV, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema became the sixth-fastest Big Ten coach since 1946 to reach 50 career wins. Only Bo Schembechler, Joe Paterno, Earle Bruce, Lloyd Carr and Jim Tressel reached 50 wins faster than Bielema. ... Last week, Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire became just the second player in Big Ten history to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark in kickoff-return yards. He now has 3,001 yards; Wisconsin's David Gilreath had 3,025 from 2007-10. ... Indiana played 10 true freshmen in its season-opening loss to Ball State, its highest total since 2003 (11). ... Nebraska never has played Fresno State, but the Huskers have won 21 consecutive games against WAC foes. ... If Purdue gets a victory against Rice, it will be the first time the Boilermakers have won a non-conference road game since beating Toledo on Sept. 1, 2007. ... After spending much of 2010 searching for a consistent running attack, Northwestern has surpassed 200 yards rushing in back-to-back contests for the first time since the final two games of 2003. Northwestern had 229 rushing yards in the TicketCity Bowl loss to Texas Tech to close last season and rushed for 227 last Saturday against Boston College. ... Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard, one of the nation's best at his position, hasn't practiced since injuring his right leg Aug. 17. Bo Pelini says he doesn't know if Dennard will be ready this weekend. ... Northwestern lists Kain Colter and Dan Persa as the co-No. 1 quarterbacks. Persa is day-to-day as he continues to recover from an Achilles' injury last November that caused him to miss the final three games of 2010 and the opener against Boston College. ... With Wisconsin G Travis Frederick out with a knee injury, Ryan Groy will make his first career start against Oregon State. ... Indiana senior LB Leon Beckum suffered a knee injury in the opener and is expected to miss two to six weeks. He ranked third on the team in tackles last year (69). And IU DE Darius Johnson did not play in the opener because of an unspecified issue; coach Kevin Wilson would not say if Johnson would play this week against Virginia. Johnson is the team's best pass rusher. ... T Tyler Moore became the first true freshman offensive lineman to start a season opener for Nebraska last week against Chattanooga. He is only the fourth Huskers true freshman offensive lineman to start a game at any point in a season.